Walking Matters

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 5, 2010    •    634 Views

A podcast on cities from WNYC’s Radiolab cited walking speed as a part of a city’s personality.

To walk 60 feet, people averaged 10.55 seconds in Singapore,  12.37 seconds in Paris, 21 seconds in Buchanan, Liberia, and 31.60 seconds in Blantyre, Malawi. Hearing a city’s average walking speed, which was remarkably consistent when measured during different years, researchers could estimate economic data such as average income.

The Economic Lesson

Economists and their physics and psychology research partners are starting to perceive cities as organisms. They have said, for example, that cities, functioning as an economy of scale, “get more economical with size.” They also have observed that individuals tend to be more productive in larger cites, to earn higher wages, and to innovate more. In fact, when a city becomes so large that it might run out of resources, its response is to innovate. However, cities experience diminishing returns– less extra benefit– from each new innovation.

Especially because more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, economists care about how cities function.


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